It was the game that would all but settle the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season, as they tried to avoid falling behind 3-1 to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder needed their stars to come out—not just Kevin Durant, but surely, Russell Westbrook and James Harden had to have big games. The latter two combined to shoot 6-for-23 from the floor. And Oklahoma City…won? Yes, OkC overcame subpar nights from two of its three best players and beat the best team the NBA 109-103 and officially announced “Game On” in the West Finals.
TheSportsNotebook has called out Kendrick Perkins for his lack of performance at different points in these playoffs, including this series. But Perkins came up big last night, with 15 points/9 rebounds, helping his team establish a 41-31 rebounding advantage—and with the Spurs bagging 11 three-point shots, OkC needed every edge they could get inside. Serge Ibaka came up even bigger down low, scoring 26 points, leaving everyone to wonder when the defensive-minded power forward suddenly morphed into Kevin McHale, as he filled the offensive gaps left by Westbrook and Harden. And lest we forget, Kevin Durant poured in 36 points and shared the basketball well, with eight assists.
Westbrook and Harden weren’t the only big-name guards to struggle. The same held true for Tony Parker, who had just 12 points and was contained for the second straight game. Even though Tim Duncan got back on track, with a 21/9, and forward Kawhi Leonard posted a 17/9 night, San Antonio couldn’t get enough from the backcourt, in spite of the best efforts of Manu Ginobli and Stephen Jackson off the bench.
The Eastern Conference Finals have their own Game 4 tonight, with Boston looking to match Oklahoma City’s feat of winning two straight at home to tie up the series. Both the Celtics and Heat have an easy win at home (Games 1 & 3) and now the Celtics need to match the Heat’s ability to win a close game at home (the 115-111 overtime win in Game 2). Boston has reason to feel encouraged, with Ray Allen looking like he’s gaining strength as the series goes on. The flip side is that Miami’s Mario Challmes is playing some of his best basketball right now as well, and when the Heat get real support for LeBron and Dwayne Wade, they’re not going to be beaten. As a Celts fan, I’m keyed up for tonight’s game, but they have to deal with the reality that each game is Miami’s to lose, based on how well their supporting pieces play.